If you’re fairly new to the jiu-jitsu scene or you’ve simply spent a lot of time training at one BJJ academy, you may have wondered if your training experience is “normal.” While every gym and association is different and the definition of “normal” is pretty subjective in the jiu-jitsu world, what truly matters is whether or not you’re training in an environment that is safe, healthy, and conducive to your goals.
Here are some of the fundamental points that go into creating a great gym environment:
1. The academy is physically safe. Maintaining a healthy gym environment includes maintaining the gym in a way that is literally beneficial to students’ health. Are the mats cleaned regularly? Is there a stocked first-aid kit? Is the training area free of debris? If there are sharp corners on structures around the mat area, are they covered? Your academy owner’s first priority should be the safety of the students, and the foundation for that starts with building a physically safe training environment.
2. All students are treated equally. You should never be made to feel excluded or “less than” at the gym. Even if you’re not affected by discriminatory policies or comments from coaches or other students, ask yourself if anyone walking into that academy would feel the same way. Would you feel comfortable training there if you were of a different race, religion, or sexual orientation? Do you believe that your instructor gives the same opportunities to students regardless of gender? Do lower-ranked students receive the same support in training and competition as the more advanced students? A gym is only as great as its students are treated.
3. Your coaches are approachable. Even if they are black belts, even if they’re kinda famous, your coach should never give off the vibe that they’re too cool to answer your questions or discuss concerns with you. A good instructor is dedicated to their students — they spend class time making sure techniques are being properly executed and helping students who need it. If you have a problem with anything — whether it’s an academy policy, another student, or a personal concern related to jiu-jitsu — you should feel comfortable bringing it up to your instructor without worrying that you’ll be dismissed or scolded.
4. Students are protected from other students. Oftentimes, the biggest danger to a jiu-jitsu student is another jiu-jitsu student. Larger, less controlled, over-aggressive, or ego-driven students can prove to be a serious threat to other practitioners who don’t yet have the abilities to handle them safely. Your instructor should ensure that students (mostly newer ones who don’t know any better) are paired up with other students who aren’t overly likely to injure them. Additionally, if a coach gets the sense that bullying or harassment is happening amongst their students, it needs to be squashed immediately with appropriate consequences for the offending participants.
5. Your instructor doesn’t try to control you. There’s a difference between establishing and enforcing rules and creating a cult-like environment in the gym. Your instructor should allow you to visit other academies, especially for open mats. They shouldn’t try to bribe you for extra training time or attention, and they certainly shouldn’t try to control aspects of your personal life that have no impact on your time in the gym. A great instructor guides you through your jiu-jitsu journey and gives you a push when you need it, but never drags you around by your collar.
There are many factors that go into building the best possible BJJ environment, and these are just some of the most important. Does your academy fit the bill?